On Feb. 26, my brother and I and our cousin visited our family farm situated in Sitio Canlaro, Barangay San Jose in the northern town of La Libertad. Soon after our arrival, we discovered that the local government unit there had purchased a tract of land directly above and west of our farm for the purpose of building a landfill/dumpsite there.
We inquired if the people in Canlaro and the barangay above, Biga-a, were called by the LGU and/or the DENR for a public hearing to learn the details of the project plan, and if they were consulted to get their approval of the plan. The answer was in the negative.
Those we spoke with actually expressed dismay and grave concern over such a plan by the LGU.
We asked if they had gone to their respective barangay captains — Glory Potestas in Canlaro, and Trifona Apatan in Biga-a — or their mayor, Emmanuel Limkaichong Iway, to let them know how they felt. Fear crossed their faces. Their reply: We are just ordinary people; we are not rich and powerful; we’ll just bring trouble to ourselves by saying something.
For some time now, I have expressed in my writings that we now show all the manifestations of a police state. Doesn’t anyone care that ours has become a faux democracy? Or is this situation just unique to Negros Oriental?
Upon our return to Dumaguete, I sent a letter on March 2 to Engr. Viernov Grefalde, the Provincial Environment & Natural Resources officer. The subject of my letter was Proposed Plan to Build a Landfill/Dumpsite at Sitio Canlaro, Barangay San Jose, La Libertad, Negros Oriental, wherein I asked if the DENR had knowledge of the plan. And that if DENR is aware of it, and is engaged with the LGU in the plan, had they consulted with the constituents who would likely be affected? Was due process followed? As work is underway, is there a proper and approved Environmental Compliance Certificate? (After all, this is the law.)
Apart from the law and due process appearing not to have been followed, the lay of the land is of grave concern to have a landfill/dumpsite on such kind of terrain.
Sitio Canlaro, located along the road leading to Barangay Biga-a, lies beside the large Magin-in (San Jose) River. To get to Canlaro and Biga-a, one travels up a hill from the provincial highway going west towards the mountain. The proposed landfill/dumpsite is west of Canlaro, and is on higher ground. The sea is about two kilometers east. The river is due north.
The area devoted to this project is traversed by a dry creek which gets swollen during strong rains. The entire area beside the Magin-in River gets flooded during the typhoon months. It is a bit hilly so with any strong rain, excess water (runoff) settles in the creek, and eventually drops to the river then the sea.
In addition to San Jose, residents of Barangay Biga-a will also be greatly affected by this landfill project as they will be using the same road going up to their barangay.
Because the area is on high ground, there is a constant wind blowing from the mountain through the farms, and to the sea. As such, once the landfill/dumpsite is operational, the townsfolk will be subjected to continuous stench from the rotting garbage.
As well, bacterial and toxic chemical seepage will enter the groundwater, affecting well water that the barangay folk drink and wash with.
The seepage will be flowing down the hill, and underneath the soil, also towards the river then to the sea.
It will be a disaster if these folks experience what the people in Vallehermoso are going through today.
Even Lalimar Resort, which is about two to three kilometers from the landfill site, will be affected as well. What will the dumpsite project do to its future?
The Candau-ay landfill/dumpsite in Dumaguete has turned out to be an environmental and health mistake, and we may be repeating this serious mistake unless DENR intervenes before it’s too late.
Engr. Grefalde acknowledged receipt of my letter within 48 hours, and a few days after, we received a call letting us know that the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau were on their way to visit the project site in La Libertad.
Immediately after their visit, I was given a detailed update. Shortly thereafter, my brother and I visited the DENR-EMB office along Larena Drive to not only get a better understanding of what has happened thus far, and to officially express our concerns.
I tip my hat off to Engr. Grefalde, Louie Morardante, and Filbert Salingbagat — conscientious government officials and workers who acted with speed to investigate, confirm, and clarify what we had been informed by the people earlier. A refreshing change.
The DENR-EMB assured us that the plan in La Libertad was not going to be a dumpsite unlike what we had here in Candau-ay.
The one in La Libertad would “just be a landfill”, intended only for residual waste, Engr. Grefalde said.
Since ‘residual waste’ is a new phrase for me in the context of waste management, he explained to me that these are non-biodegradables such as plastic sachets and plastic rollbags.
No biodegradables, like food waste, would be permitted in the landfill, and thus, invalidates our concern regarding the stench.
I pointed out that I have yet to see someone wash out their rollbags, this being often used to keep raw or cooked food. In time, with accumulation, I said stench will start to emanate from the landfill.
And unless the site is manned 24/7 by at least three people per shift who will inspect incoming garbage, all kinds of waste will simply start showing up at the landfill: batteries, paint/motor oil cans, diapers/sanitary napkins, food waste, name it, they will show up!
Stench, bacteria (e. coli, coliform), and toxic chemicals will start leaching out of the landfill, seep into the ground, get washed out into the river, and on to the sea.
Methane and hydrogen sulfide (that ‘rotten egg’ smell) are notorious by-products of landfills and dumpsites. Both are poisonous!
And because the area for the landfill in La Libertad is hilly, everything will move through the community living below the site! In this area, everyone uses well water for drinking, bathing, and washing. These are not deep wells. There is a spring nearby from which some families source their drinking water. So give it a year of operation, and we will have our own news reports of illnesses, and possibly death, not unlike the reports of water contamination in Vallehermoso that occurred in February and into March.
A boil-water advisory, helpful for bacterial contamination, does not eliminate toxic chemical contamination. If anything, it just concentrates it some more.
And while on this subject, what is causing the water contamination in Vallehermoso?
We are advised that the landfill in La Libertad, of which construction has already started without an ECC, will be in an excavated area, and the cavity or basin will be lined with a very thick plastic to prevent waste water from seeping into the ground. Within the basin will be pipes that will take the leachate, and pass it through a series of chambers that collectively form the cleaning station. And from there, the supposedly clean water (i.e. no more sludge, no more sediments) will be discharged into the ground, with its way eventually to the river.
We expressed a number of additional concerns: What assurance do we have that the water will always be clean entering the ground and the river? It may be clear but e. coli and heavy metals cannot be detected by the naked eye.
What happens when we have another typhoon bringing upon us tons of rain water such that the basin will overflow?
What happens if an earthquake, or the torrential rain, loosens the landfill, and causes a landslide? Will we have our own landfill collapse?
Because garbage collapse does happen. Tondo’s Smokey Mountain, Guangdong in southern China, Hulene, Maputo in Mozambique, to just name a few. Death and destruction follow.
The DENR-EMB personnel were sympathetic to our concerns. They advised vigilance: If the community notices something amiss, to report it immediately.
Sadly, this will only work up to a point. Human beings are undisciplined, and we tend to take the line of least resistance. Don’t know what to do with those empty paint cans, used batteries, dirty diapers? Bury it in a bag of sachets and roll bags. Who will be the wiser?
And once in place, even if detected, will there be personnel to take it out? I suspect not.
This is one time I would like to be wrong, but if I’m right, the damage will already have been done.
At the time of this writing, and from a legal perspective, DENR had not issued an ECC to the landfill project in La Libertad, yet work is already underway.
The ECC is still being worked on, and perhaps, the powers-that-be may conduct public hearings to inform the community of what they are to receive from the LGU, whether they like it or not. After all, the community is simply perceived as some poor people whose votes are a mere drop-in-the-bucket so ultimately, of no real value to the LGU.
The cart before the horse? What kind of backward process is this?
Yet again, this begs the question: Why do we bother having laws when the rich and powerful and the politicians will circumvent them anyway?
The social injustice is that the rich and powerful do not suffer; but the poor, who have virtually no options to change their situation, do.